Acoustic guitar music plays low in the background. The ceiling fan spins, the coffee is hot, the paper and pen just right…on a good day, this is how I set the mood when I write. My office walls are painted a certain color, the window blinds are always open during the day, there are shelves filled with books, a glider rocker. I’ve done everything in my power to make this room a happy place.
To energize, calm, inspire, comfort—whatever the emotion we want to feel, there likely is a way to nudge ourselves in that direction by manipulating our Surroundings. Whether it’s the music we listen to or the motivational quotes we tack up on our refrigerator, we create the atmosphere in which our moods grow. As Sam Gosling, author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, wrote, “Much of the stuff we gather about us and the environments we create are there not to send messages about our identities but specifically to manage our emotions and thoughts.”
Here are three simple environmental factors that can boost—or lower—your mood:
I don’t aspire to Marie Kondo levels of organization, but it does make me feel lighter and happier when I look around at tidy surroundings. I like knowing that if I open the Hall Closet door, nothing will fall on my head. I’m in an ongoing battle with paper in my office, and books everywhere else, but I make an effort to keep my kitchen cleaned up and I make the bed most days because it makes me happy to see it like that.
I’m also prone to taking on a cleaning or organizing project when I’m frustrated or blocked in my creative pursuits. Some would say I’m avoiding my work, but I choose to think of it as a way to distract the inner critic long enough to sneak some ideas by her. Making progress in one area (a cleaned out hall closet) often leads to progress in another (a completed blog post).
(Just don’t look in my office right now—eesh!)
The presence or lack of light, especially natural light, makes a huge difference to me. If we have a run of a few days with no sunshine, I feel my mood lowering just like the clouds. Light is essential to the human body, helping to regulate hormones that affect mood and sleep. You’ll almost always find “step outside” on lists of ways to feel happier, and getting some natural light is one of the reasons that’s so effective.
Essential Oils are Having a Moment. Everywhere you turn, they’re touted as the cure for some malady. So far, my main use for them has been scent. I diffuse oils in the bedroom, kitchen, and my car. I like when things smell good! It’s a bonus when those scents have beneficial effects on my mood, which some research suggests that they do.
According to Christopher Alexander in The Timeless Way of Building: “There is a myth, sometimes widespread, that a person need only do inner work…that a man is entirely responsible for his own problems; and that to cure himself, he need only change himself…The fact it, a person is so formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.” To be truly happy, we still need to do the inner work, but we can support that work with simple pleasures that make our surroundings more to our taste. So if you find yourself battling sadness, fear, anxiety, stress or other negatively-charged emotions (and who doesn’t?), take a look at your surroundings. Maybe there’s something you can change that will help you feel better.
What is your favorite way to influence your mood by manipulating your environment? Please share in the comments!